Will Floridians be able to vote on whether offshore drilling is allowed?

BP drilling explosion in Gulf of Mexico
Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, photo by US Coast Guard.

Putting a ban on offshore drilling in the Florida Constitution

Florida voters may get a chance to ban oil and gas drilling in waters near the state’s coast. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission will take a final vote by May on whether to enshrine a ban in the state constitution on the 2018 ballot.

Sixty-percent of voters must vote yes in order for the amendment to take effect. If adopted, oil and gas drilling would not be allowed up to nine miles off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico, and up to three miles off the Atlantic coastline.

The 37-member panel meets every 20 years and is allowed to propose changes to the state constitution. The commission held its first meeting a year ago. At least 22 members of the panel have to vote for the proposal to move forward.

Economic impact of offshore drilling

The nonprofit organization Oceana released a report earlier this month examining the economics of drilling in the Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific waters off Florida and other states. The report begins,

The Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coast of Florida support over 2.6 million American jobs and roughly $180 billion in GDP. Tourism, recreation and fishing, as well as the associated markets they support, are major drivers of coastal economies. If fisheries are properly managed and coastlines are continuously protected, these jobs can be sustained for generations to come. (emphasis added)

The economic report was released in response to the Trump administration’s proposal to enact a profound expansion of off-shore drilling. Though Florida Governor Rick Scott has received assurances from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, there are no new official exemptions for the state of Florida. (There is currently a federal moratorium in place until 2022.)  The Oceana report points out that oil spills and other catastrophes do not limit themselves to state borders, leaving Florida still vulnerable.

Offshore drilling threatens nearly 610,000 jobs and roughly $37.4 billion in GDP in Florida…

The risk of another catastrophe like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is too great to endanger Florida’s healthy ocean resources and thriving coastal economies. The blowout resulted in more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, with far reaching consequences that are still being discovered, including enormous economic losses, human health impacts, and disturbing effects on marine ecosystems. Impacts to fisheries could total $8.7 billion by 2020, and roughly 10 million user-days of beach, fishing and boating activity were lost.

Seismic Airgun Blasting

An early step in deepwater exploration is Seismic Airgun Blasting. This is when huge – HUGE – air guns blast compressed air from the surface to beneath the seabed to see if there is oil or gas there. Studies by the Sierra Club and many others have shown that the air guns interfere with the well being of marine life, creating dead zones in the water. The Trump administration’s proposal also removes some of the protections of the Marine Mammals Act so the Seismic Airguns could be used.

In related news, a Federal judge says groups can sue to keep Arctic, Atlantic drill bans

A lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s reversal of a ban on petroleum drilling in most of the Arctic Ocean and Atlantic underwater canyons can move forward. Federal court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled Monday in Anchorage, Alaska, that environmental groups can sue to keep the ban in place.

Former President Barack Obama withdrew Arctic waters under provisions of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Obama also banned exploration in 5,937 square miles (15,377 square kilometers) of Atlantic Ocean canyon complexes. Environmental groups say presidents can permanently withdraw areas but the law makes no provision to reopen areas.

Trump in April ordered an Interior Department review of the ban with the goal of exploration in the offshore areas. Gleason ruled the plaintiffs have standing in the case and it can move forward.


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